Saturday, February 28, 2009

Would you believe Zen?

I love the 1970's cult classic "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". Bet you never read it, but it applies to woodworking and bowl turning and as the author, Robert Pirsig, famously declares, it is not about Zen nor is it about motorcycles. I came to it later in life since my education was technical and we had no time for all that philosophy nonsense. The book is an essay on quality and how it applies to work and about getting work done. One of my favorite parts is where the writer divides the world into two sections. See which group you fit into.

The first is those people who love to get ready to work. They set up shop in detail and they paint those outlines of all their tools on a piece of pegboard on the wall so they can tell when a tool is missing or put out of place. Drawers have felt linings (red) in the bottom so no tools get scratched when carefully placed in their prescribed location. All the tools are there in all the sizes and carefully lined from smallest to largest. The floor is tiled and waxed and has not a bit of sawdust or shavings. Everything is set up and ready to go and the owner of this shop has all the tools he needs to build anything out of wood. Probably has a neon sign on the wall that flashes "Ken's Place" or some such. Except he never makes anything because it would mess up the shop. What he really loves is getting ready to make something.

The other type is the guy who has all the tools but they are scattered all over the shop. Some are dull and they certainly don't fit in a drawer or on a pegboard. There is no red felt anywhere. The floor is covered with dust and chips. The only thing pristine in the shop is the current project sitting on the bench in some ethereal glow not explained by the overhead flourescent lighting. No signs, no tile, no pegboard, no felt -- just beautiful work in a messy shop.

Two groups of people -- one likes getting ready to work and the other likes working. Which one are you? Go read Pirsig to find out more about yourself. You will need to read it about four times but eventually you may get it, (or maybe not). I'm in the second group by the way.

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